Friday, November 5, 2010

Mistakes Were Made

During my student days in Melbourne, I got a job as a barman in a Carlton pub. I was too young to work there legally, but got around that by pointing out to the publican that I'd been drinking there for years when I was even younger. He took me on.

There were some tough guys amongst the regulars. One of them was a good middle weight boxer with a volatile temper. One evening, I did something wrong, maybe put three atoms too much air in his beer, and he lost it. Threw the glass at me. I ducked just in time, but then the boss also lost it because my lack of balls meant a lot of breakage when the glass of beer hit the wall of glass objects behind me. For a brief moment, I thought my customer was going to start throwing more stuff, but he took a deep breath, leaned over the bar and shared a thought with me. "You'll keep, you little shit. I'm gonna punch your lights out when you go home."

The rest of the night went slowly while my mind conjured up thousands of scenarios of the after work horror that awaited me. There were brief moments when I thought he might be falling down drunk by the time I left, but since nobody had ever seen him in that state and since everybody who knew him called him a mean drunk, I mainly thought about being too young to die.

When the pub closed for the night, there were the usual chores to do cleaning up the bars, washing the last glasses, cleaning out the beer lines, counting the cash, drinking free beer, mindlessly chatting. But the time came when the boss had had more than enough of my company. He sent me home and no doubt went up to bed.

I tip-toed to the side door, waited for some minutes, very carefully turned the handle. I pulled the door back slowly, ready to slam it shut in a flash. Nothing happened. I stuck my head out slowly and looked around. By a nice miracle, there was nobody in the street at all. I managed a breath, stepped outside, and closed the door behind me. And headed off home feeling quite relieved. As I stepped around the corner of the pub onto Lygon Street, Gavin stood up from a doorstep and stepped in front of me. I died.

Then he laughed and said, "Jesus mate, you look like you shit your pants!" I didn't know the right answer and managed to say nothing. He stuck out his hand to shake and said, "Sorry I was a prick before, let's be friends again. OK?" I reached out for the handshake and said, "Sure, friends is good." The handshake felt as though it broke all the bones in my hand, but it seemed like a fair escape.

So we stayed friends for a few weeks and then he died in a drunken car crash in the city.

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